Twice or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,
Angels affect us oft, and worshipped be;
Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see.
But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
More subtle than the parent is,
Love must not be, but take a body too;
And therefore what thou wert, and who,
I bid love ask, and now
That it assume thy body I allow,
And fix itself to thy lip, eye, and brow.
Whilst thus to ballast love I thought,
And so more steadily to have gone,
With wares which would sink admiration,
I saw I had love’s pinnace overfraught
Every thy hair for love to work upon
Is much too much, some fitter must be sought;
For, nor in nothing, nor in things
Extreme and scatt’ring bright, can love inhere.
Then as an angel, face and wings
Of air, not pure as it, yet pure doth wear,
So thy love may be my love’s sphere.
Just such disparity
As is ‘twixt air and angel’s purity,
‘Twixt women’s love and men’s will ever be.
"Air and Angels" by John Donne is a metaphysical poem that delves into the contrast between the earthly and spiritual realms, using the imagery of angels to explore themes of love, transcendence, and the complexities of human desire. The poem contemplates the gap between idealized, spiritual love and the reality of human relationships.
The poem begins with the paradoxical idea that earthly love is more base and impure than spiritual love. The speaker uses the metaphor of "Air" to represent earthly love, suggesting its fleeting and insubstantial nature. In contrast, "Angels" symbolize a purer, divine form of love that is eternal and unchanging.
The poem explores the idea of longing for an unattainable, ideal love. The speaker suggests that earthly love is marred by physicality and imperfections, rendering it inferior to the spiritual love sought by the soul. The line "Yet must love's fires be kindled here below" implies that even though true spiritual love may exist, it is experienced through imperfect human vessels.
The poem's second part shifts its focus to the speaker's desire for his beloved. Here, the speaker reflects on the tension between physical desire and spiritual yearning. The imagery of the "iron beds" and "spring" speaks to the earthly and sensual aspect of love. The mention of "concentric scribbled rings" alludes to the physical act of writing and suggests the limitations of human language in conveying the depths of divine love.
Donne uses complex and intellectual language typical of metaphysical poetry. The intricate conceits and paradoxes he employs challenge readers to contemplate the profound philosophical ideas embedded within the poem.
"Air and Angels" encapsulates the metaphysical concern with exploring the interplay between the material and spiritual worlds, particularly in the context of love. The poem's exploration of the tension between human desire and the pursuit of a higher, spiritual connection underscores Donne's ability to meld philosophical concepts with emotional depth, inviting readers to ponder the complexities of love and the nature of human existence.